Overview

Fibromyalgia is a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep and mood issues. Researchers believe that fibromyalgia amplifies painful sensations by affecting the way your brain and spinal cord process painful and nonpainful signals.

Fibromyalgia is commonly thought of as a condition that affects adults. However, fibromyalgia also occurs in children and adolescents. Estimates suggest that juvenile-onset fibromyalgia affects 2% to 6% of schoolchildren, mostly adolescent girls. It is most commonly diagnosed between ages 13 and 15.

Symptoms

In some children, symptoms begin after a triggering event, such as physical trauma, surgery, infection or prolonged psychological stress. In other children, symptoms gradually accumulate over time with no single triggering event.

In children with fibromyalgia, signs and symptoms include:

  • Widespread pain. The pain associated with fibromyalgia often is described as a dull ache that has lasted for at least three months. To be considered widespread, the pain must occur on both sides of your body and above and below your waist.
  • Headache. Frequent headaches occur in a majority of children who have fibromyalgia.
  • Sleep disturbances. Despite complaints of severe fatigue, these children often take an hour or more to fall asleep. Even when they do fall asleep, many have difficulty maintaining sleep and wake up during the night.
  • Fatigue. People with fibromyalgia often awaken tired, even though they report sleeping for long periods of time. Many children with fibromyalgia have other sleep disorders, such as restless legs syndrome.
  • Other problems. Children who have fibromyalgia may also have pain or cramping in the lower abdomen with constipation or diarrhea. They may also have trouble paying attention or concentrating. Depression and anxiety are common in people who have fibromyalgia.

Causes

Doctors don't know why some people develop fibromyalgia and others don't. There appears to be a genetic component because the condition tends to run in families. In some people, it may be triggered by specific events, injuries or illnesses.

Why does it hurt?

Researchers believe repeated nerve stimulation causes changes in the brain and spinal cord of people with fibromyalgia. These changes include an abnormal increase in levels of certain chemicals in the brain that signal pain. In addition, the brain's pain receptors seem to develop a sort of memory of the pain and become sensitized, meaning they can overreact to painful and nonpainful signals.

Risk factors

Risk factors for fibromyalgia include:

  • Your sex. Fibromyalgia is diagnosed more often in girls and women.
  • Family history. You may be more likely to develop fibromyalgia if a parent or sibling also has the condition.
  • Rheumatic disease. If you have a rheumatic disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, you may be more likely to develop fibromyalgia.

Complications

The pain and lack of sleep associated with fibromyalgia can interfere with the ability to function at school or at home. The frustration of dealing with an often misunderstood condition can result in depression and anxiety.

Sept. 22, 2020
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